Just two weeks ago, Target dropped the most since 1987’s Black Monday after the retailer warned profits would come in well below expectation due to soaring inflation eating into profit margins and would also impact revenue growth. Fast forward to today when Target issued another profit warning, just as we expected now that we have entered the prime of guidance cut season …
… because the retailer will need to cancel orders or offer discounts to clear out unwanted goods, the latest sign of the sudden mismatch between supply and demand inside America’s stores.
In this morning’s profit warning, Target warned that operating profit will amount to just 2% of sales in the current quarter, well below its May 18 prediction that the gauge would be in a wide range around 5.3%. Target still sees operating margin rising to about 6% in the second half of the year, but that number will be cut too in time.
In addition, the company will offload excess inventory and adjust some prices “to address the impact of unusually high transportation and fuel costs.” Target is also seeking to get a handle on supply-chain disruptions by adding “incremental holding capacity near U.S. ports,” which will give it greater flexibility.
“We’ve had some additional time after earnings to really evaluate the overall operating environment,” said Target Chief Executive Brian Cornell in an interview with the WSJ. That includes watching consumer behavior as they face high rates of inflation, he said, and seeing many other retailers talk about high inventory levels during their earnings presentations. “We have to be decisive and get out in front of this to make sure this doesn’t linger through the back half of the year.”
“Excess inventory doesn’t usually age well,” Chief Financial Officer Michael Fiddelke told Bloomberg. “We want to make sure that we’re being aggressive to right-size our inventory now.” He said this would help improve shoppers’ experience while boosting value for shareholders.
Of course, none of this should be news to regular Zero Hedge readers because just three weeks ago we wrote “Bullwhip Effect Ends With A Bang: Why Prices Are About To Fall Off A Cliff” in which we showed the dramatic surge in the inventory-to-sales ratio at General Merchandise retailers, and predicted that as they have no choice but to liquidate excess inventory, prices – and profit margins – are set to crater.
Big retailers benefited over the past two years from the pandemic rush to buy patio furniture, laptops and home décor, as shoppers were buoyed by savings and government stimulus checks. Now many of those same stores are grappling with a swift reversal of buying behavior with consumers spending less on goods in favor of services and necessities such as food and fuel.
The measures show Target’s struggle to adjust to rapid shifts in demand amid stubborn inflation that’s forced consumer spending into less-profitable staple goods and away from discretionary categories such as electronics and home products. That’s left Target and its big-box rivals with more merchandise that consumers don’t want, complicating their effort to maintain their market-share gains of the pandemic while keeping investors happy.
As Bloomberg adds, retailers have to account for many consumers’ sudden price sensitivity, while balancing their own surging operating costs from fuel, labor and other expenses. Meanwhile, the lessons of the pandemic, when shoppers hoarded goods, are still fresh, and companies are wary of being caught without enough merchandise to sell.
But holding on to larger quantities of products is expensive, and if they fail to move, markdowns further hurt profitability while benefiting bargain-hunting shoppers. Inventories have soared at retailers from Gap Inc. to Costco Wholesale Corp. Last week, Walmart Inc. said it would need “another couple quarters” to work through its bloated inventory. Given the industry overhang, Target decided since its earnings report to take “a decisive set of actions,” Fiddelke said.
Needless to say, the market was not happy, although it certainly was surprised despite our explicit warning that this was coming. On May 13, Target shares plunged the most since 1987 after the release of its first-quarter results, which included the more pessimistic profit outlook and an increase in product inventories. The following week, the stock sank to the lowest since September 2020 before recording meager gains since then. In all, Target has fallen 31% so far this year. And this morning, the stock is plunging another 10%,
Target was not alone as the market realize that we were right all along, and peer retailers such as Walmart and Costco all fell premarket after Target’ margin guidance cut. WMT was down as much as 4.3% ahead of the bell, COST -2.9%, while TGT shares sank as much as 10%, Kroger -1.3%, Macy’s -3%, and so on as traders realize that the US is about to be hit with a historic liquidation wave as retailers rush to dump tens of billions in excess inventory.